Dear brethren in the Lord: Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ!
How thankful we ought to be that in all our work in the kingdom of the blessed Christ we need never be in doubt as to our most sacred duty and high privilege: To bear witness unto the truth. Not only does truth remain the same in all ages, but the most urgent need of man remains the same, so that we need never be uncertain as to what we, as shepherds of the flock over the which the Holy Ghost hath made us overseers, must say and do.
When for the past several decades, that very questionable slogan (popular among those who seldom or never do any serious thinking), “A Changeless Christ for a Changing World,” has been going the rounds, it may have been used by many with the very best of intentions, but certainly not with any profound thought as to the nature of their calling. For what is our calling as shepherds? To bring the message of a changeless Christ to a world which really does not change. For it is as true today as. it was when Paul addressed the congregation at Rome: “The carnal mind is enmity against God.” Rom. 8:7. In spite of all protestations to the contrary, the natural man is no more in love with the truth today than he, was on that day.
“Of man’s first disobedience, and the fruit
Of that forbidden tree whose mortal taste
Brought death into the world, and all our woe,
With loss of Eden.”
For no sooner had man fallen from his sinlessness than he resorted to that which will ever have to bear the ugly name: lying. A cynical Voltaire may make his well-known quip about men employing speech only to conceal their thoughts, but God does not want us so to misuse that precious gift, telling us frankly that “every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.” Matt. 12:36. Not only does God counsel us to “buy the truth, and sell it not” (Prov. 23:23), but He also admonishes us ever to speak the truth in love. Eph. 4:15. Why? The answer will be found in that passage which we have chosen as our text for this Jubilee address, 2 Cor. 13:8.
“We can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth”
When the Son of God was standing before the Roman governor’s judgment seat, and had just declared: “To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice,” the governor sneeringly replied: “What is truth?” His was not a question prompted by a desire to arrive at that which is and ever must remain unchangeable. It was but a scoffing sceptic’s sarcastic rejoinder in one of the most momentous moments of his life. Never again was the unjust and petty politician to have the chance of joining cause with Him who can truthfully say of Himself: “I am the truth.” Because Pilate trifled with that which is holy (for truth is ever that) he not only has gone down in history as one of the most ignominious characters ever to occupy the exalted position of a judge, but he has forever inscribed his name among those whom the Church of God will remember with a shudder of shame, yea, will, while there is a Christian Church upon earth, be mentioned in its sacred Confession: “Suffered under Pontius Pilate.”
There was no question in the mind of Pilate as to whether or no Jesus of Nazareth was actually guilty of that which was charged against Him. Again and again in that shameful trial he admits in so many words: “I find in him no fault at all.” And yet he pronounced the sentence which sent the Innocent One to the tree of torment at the behest of the milling mob. Why? Pilate reckoned in terms which left out of account the plain and sober statement of our text: “We can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth.”
Move with comfortable majorities all you please, imagine that your cause is just because the rabble cries for it, make “vox populi, vox Dei” (“the voice of the people is the voice of God”) your life principle, and you may manage to get through this world tolerably well, even better than did the infamous Pilate. But if you do, you have not “looked even unto the end,” for there in letters of gold stand the never-failing words: “We can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth.”
While this apostolic statement will hold good for all time and will be as applicable when the last Synod meeting shall be called as it is for our 1943 Jubilee convention, it is well that we bear this divine statement in mind at this time, not only because there is confusion worse confounded in many quarters regarding the clarity of Scripture, the reliability of our time-honored Confessions, the utter helplessness of natural man, the all-sufficiency of God’s saving grace, and the Scriptural doctrine of a verbally inspired Word, but also because there are insidious foes at work in the social, political, educational, and economic world of our day who would “change the truth of God into a lie, and worship and serve the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen,” Rom. 1:25.
It cannot be gainsaid that one of the most insidious foes we have to face in this age is that leprous character, Unionism. Our fathers fought that foe of the truth with clear-cut Bible passages. But now we are told that the sainted fathers of our church were given to “generalization”; that is, they had used passages from Holy Writ against Unionism which really were not applicable. We are now being told that “truth is stronger than falsehood,” and that there is no need of being alarmed at establishing pulpit- and altar-fellowship with such as err from the truth, “We need not necessarily be agreed in all points of doctrine before we join in worship with false teachers, for we shall continue to proclaim the truth, and in the end we shall win out,” say the unionists, By that method of reasoning we might just as well make common cause with the very Anti-Christ, the Pope in Rome, today. For if we but continue to proclaim the truth, the Pope will finally be convinced of it and will cease to pronounce his “anathema sit” (“Let him be accursed”) upon the central truth of the Bible, namely, that a poor sinner is saved alone by grace through faith, without the works of the law. “Truth stronger than falsehood?” When that statement is made use of to sanction the sin of Unionism, there is one vital fact which is lost sight of, namely, that you can hold no more of the truth than that which is regarded as such by those with whom you make common cause. Truth is strong only so long as we regard it as truth. It is a commodity which must be bought, never to be sold again, no matter what profit may appear to be in prospect through the bargaining. For truth is the pearl of great price, for which all that you possess must be sacrificed if need be, in order that you may claim it as your very own.
“But we are so few,” you say. “What hope may we have of making any real impact on the world with our testimony?” Our blessed Saviour has not commissioned us to make so-called impacts, but He has given us the very definite command: “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” Mark 16:15. He has not assured us that all shall believe that saving evangel, for He immediately adds unto the words of commission: “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” Mark 16:16. When Christ states, in the 24th chapter of Matthew, that “this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come,” that does not mean that all shall accept the Gospel in child-like faith. On the contrary, the vast majority shall reject it to their eternal sorrow. But it is not our responsibility to create faith ours is the responsibility of preaching the Word of faith without any buts and ifs, and then to leave the results to Him who has told us: “As many as were ordained to eternal life believed.” Acts 13:48.
However, there is nothing which unregenerate man rebels at more stubbornly than an unconditioned Gospel of grace. If he is not given some share, though it be ever so small in the meriting of his own salvation, the Gospel of Christ must needs be reconstructed, so that man himself has some determining part in the attainment of his soul’s salvation. He must at least be credited with this that he of his own will ceased struggling against the truth. But what is that vicious doctrine? It is a rank denial of the divine word which tells us: “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” Phil. 2:13. It is for that very reason that we have chosen as the theme for discussion at this Jubilee convention the three Solas: “Sola Scriptura” (Scripture alone must determine all articles of faith); “Sola Gratia” (by grace alone are we saved, otherwise grace is no more. grace); “Sola Fide” (by faith alone do we come into possession of that boundless grace of God). And what does this imply? It implies the fundamental truth that, if we attempt to make the way to salvation a way of reason or a way of man’s own merit, we shall be attempting the impossible. For, to return to our text: “We can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth.” It will be true to the end of time that “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” 1 Cor. 2:14.
But to all who adhere in faith to the words regarding the inviolability of truth, there is the blessed promise given: “The Spirit of truth will guide you into all truth.” John 16:13. That is the glorious prospect held forth by the Saviour for all who hold the truth sacred, and who dare not deviate from its rugged path. They will be led from truth to truth, from grace to grace, from light to light, from spiritual life here in the valley of the shadow to that life eternal which shall be theirs in the land of perfect day. The fact that truth may appear to be on the losing side because numbers are arrayed against it, does not mean that it actually is being overthrown. Why, in the very hour when the minions of Church and State imagined that they had gotten rid of our blessed Redeemer, He was being enthroned on that seat of glory and power whence His rod of iron shall go forth, and with which all who lie and believe a lie shall be dashed in pieces like a potter’s vessel. Ps. 2:9.
Had the enemies of the truth only realized the full implication of our text, there would have been no divisions among the Norwegian Lutherans of this country. The errorist Elling Eielsen, with his disregard for the doctrine of the call, would never have branded our own faithful Herman Amberg Preus as a false prophet. The opportunist C.L. Clausen would never have made an issue of “the slavery question.” The synergistic F.A. Schmidt and B.J. Muus would never have insisted on their so-called “better attitude” principle, in seeking to explain the inexplicable, had they followed the plain direction given us in our Formula of Concord. Thorough Declaration, Article 11: “Therefore it is false and wrong when it is taught that not alone the. mercy of God and the most holy merit of Christ, but that also in us there is a cause of God’s election, on account of which God has chosen us to eternal life.” Triglotta, page 1093. You may try to make an Ulrik Vilhelm Koren out to be a man who kept a “remarkable balance” between the First and Second Form in the doctrine of Election, but you will not be able to do it on the basis of truth. For Koren, to his dying day, recognized but one Form, that which is taught in the Formula of Concord.
Truth cannot be compromised. And why not? Because it is in its very nature unalterable. You may seek to get away from it by subterfuge, but you will only be led into blind alleys, whence there is no escape. Try to write the biography of that child begotten in 1917, and which fittingly bears the name “The Norwegian Lutheran Merger,” and you will not have to go very far in the records before you discover its illegitimacy. To call H.A. Preus, J.A. Ottesen, and U.V. Koren your spiritual forebears, while you also want an Elling Eielsen, a C.L. Clausen, an F.A. Schmidt and a B.J. Muus to be listed in that category, will simply not do. You may erect massive monuments in honor of our sainted fathers and write glowing tributes. in praise of their noble work, but it will be but a mockery to their very memory if their principles be trampled into the dust.
There is going on before our very eyes in this year of Jubilee a travesty in the name of Lutheranism which reminds us of that encounter of our Saviour with the scribes and Pharisees, when He told them in no uncertain terms that it was not pleasing in His eyes to see them building the tombs of the prophets and garnishing the sepulchers of the righteous, while they were themselves the children of them which killed the prophets, Matt. 23:29 and 31. Preus and Ottesen and Koren would care for nothing more, were they with us today, than to see their children walk, not in the devious ways of compromise, but in that unswerving way of obedience to the written Word in which they, through years of unremitting faithfulness and under bitter persecution, unhesitatingly walked. And why did they walk it? Because of their implicit faith in these words: “We can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth.” In the words of our American poet, Lowell:
“Truth forever on the scaffold, Wrong forever on the throne, —
Yet that scaffold sways the Future, and, behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above His own.”
Lack of time forbids us to enter upon a discussion of the many untruths which are being peddled in the name of social betterment, political, educational, and economic advancements. But one thing is certain, and that is that what God has said in His Word is, and will remain, eternally true, regardless of so-called betterments which may be promised us contrary to that Word. It is still true that “a little that a righteous man hath is better than the riches of many wicked.” Ps. 37:16; still true that “righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people.” Prov. 14:34; still true that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” Prov. 1:7; still true that “godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content.” 1 Tim. 6:6–8.
Never before has there been a greater need of reminding our people of the fact that here we are but pilgrims and strangers, and yet holding forth the blessed Gospel promise that “there remaineth a rest to the people of God” (Heb. 4:9), to those who believe and confess with their mouths as well as in their lives: “We can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth.” May our prayer, both as individuals and as a Synod, be:
“O Word of God incarnate,
O Wisdom from on high,
O Truth unchanged, unchanging,
O light of our dark sky;
We praise Thee for the radiance
That from the hallowed page,
A lamp unto our footsteps,
Shines on from age to age.
“O make Thy Church, dear Saviour,
A lamp of burnished gold,
To bear before the nations
Thy true light as of old;
O teach Thy wandering pilgrims
By this their path to trace,
Till, clouds and darkness ended,
They see Thee face to face.”